Or Hadash Fashions Its Very Own Megillah

In March 2005, as Joshua Waxman prepared for his first Purim as rabbi of Or Hadash: A Reconstructionist Congregation in Fort Washington, he asked: "Where is the Megillah?"

That's when he said he was told the following: The congregation didn't have one.

A Megillah, the Scroll of Esther, contains the ancient tale of the Jewish maiden who rescued her people from annihilation by the evil Haman — a name eradicated with the requisite grogger-soundings, foot-stomping and booing every time it's read aloud each Purim.

Two more cycles of Purim went by, and congregants continued to use hardcover books that contained the story of Esther.

"I thought, 'We have to have a Megillah,' " explained Waxman.

In spring 2007, recalled the rabbi, he presented an idea to the ritual committee: to commission a scribe to create the synagogue's own Megillah.

The scroll was not only a needed religious item, reasoned the rabbi, but also a great way to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the founding of Or Hadash.

And so, "The Megillah Project," as the yearlong initiative became known, was born.

To make the Megillah even more special, congregant Gail Morrison-Hall, a professional artist and art educator who coordinated the project, solicited and selected artwork drawn by children from the Or Hadash religious school — illustrations of scenes from the Purim story to accompany the text on the parchment.

The scroll was created by Rabbi Kevin Hale, a full-time sofer stam, or Torah scribe, from Massachusetts. A graduate of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote and one of only a handful of non-Orthodox scribes in the world, Hale said he created numerous layouts, but eventually used the design of a 120-year-old Megillah from the recently rededicated Eldridge Street Synagogue in New York to position the columns of text so the children's art would fit properly. Digital media was used to transfer the images onto gossamer-thin archival paper, which Hale then affixed to the parchment using kosher glue.

On Sunday afternoon, March 16, about 80 people gathered to witness the siyyum — the ceremony of completion.

"Welcome to a truly landmark event for Or Hadash — the completion of our Megillah," Waxman told the gathering.

He declared it to be "the first truly Reconstructionist Megillah," in that, while it included everything that a kosher Megillah has, it was created using the principles inherent in Reconstructionism — and those embodied by Or Hadash.

He explained that the congregation went a step beyond simply commissioning a scroll by directly helping to create it, citing the donations, even the smallest amounts, made by congregants and the children's artwork.

Hale explained that the leniency of the rules when it comes to the Megillah calligraphy, as compared to a Torah or tefillin, allowed him to use different colors of ink to record the names of the characters in the Purim story: green for Esther, blue for her Uncle Mordechai and "blood red" for Haman.

It took nine congregants to hold up the scroll as it was unveiled for the first time — all 27 columns and 336 lines of it — soliciting thunderous applause, and exclamations of joy and praise from those present.

Featured at the beginning of the Megillah is an illustration of Queen Esther herself, drawn in bright colors — red, green, yellow, pink and more — by 10-year-old Alexis Weissman.

Nineteen more illustrations are included in the Megillah, depicting parts of the Purim story — all the way up to the point where the Persian Jews rejoice at the end. A black-and-white drawing done by David Freifelder, 13, called "The City of Shushan and the 127 Kingdoms," is shown at the bottom of the first column of Hebrew text; it appears again at the conclusion of the scroll, this time in full-color, in a "Wizard of Oz" moment, as Morrison-Hall called it, to symbolize that all was well once again in Shushan.

Freifelder said it was great "to get the chance to participate in something this holy" and added that he looked forward to eating some chocolate hamantashen later in the week.

Waxman said that for the kids who helped to create the Megillah it was "something they will never forget."

Hale then publicly completed the last seven letters of the scroll, each dedicated to congregants and clergy of Or Hadash, who gathered around him to watch. Waxman then took the quill and had the honor of inking the final letter — a final vav.

With the dedication of the scroll complete, only one task remains undone — its inauguration. That will take place when the congregation reads from its Megillah for the first time at Erev Purim services on Thursday, March 20. 



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